It’s a cardboard box where, for years, Joseph Cornell collected small keepsakes from his friendship with Duchamp. The box contains 117 items of various types: The French artist’s empty tobacco pouch, two cleaners for his famous white pipe, a napkin from Horn & Hardart (one of those automats that was all the rage in the 30’s and where they almost certainly met), letters, photographs, postcards of the Mona Lisa, several yellowed notes in his handwriting, gallery posters and even dry cleaning receipts which reveal Duchamp’s unusual habit of sending everything to the dry cleaner, even socks and handkerchiefs.
The box was put on display for the first time in 1998, on the occasion of the Joseph Cornell/Marcel Duchamp: In Resonance exhibition held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
No one can explain how Cornell managed to acquire such “mementos.”
Allison A. deFreese and María Negroni
Writer’s Biography: María Negroni (Rosario, Argentina) has published over 20 books, including poetry, nonfiction and novels. Islandia, Night Journey, Andanza (The Tango Lyrics), Mouth of Hell, and The Annunciation have appeared in English, and her work has also been translated into Swedish, Portuguese, Italian, and French. María Negroni received a Guggenheim fellowship for poetry in 1994, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1998, the Fundación Octavio Paz fellowship for poetry in 2001, and The New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in 2005. She also received a National Book Award for her collection of poems El viaje de la noche, a PEN Award for Islandia as best book of poetry in translation (New York 2001), and the Premio Internacional de Ensayo y Narrativa de Siglo XXI for her book Galería Fantástica. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College from 1999 to 2014, and is now director of Argentina’s first creative writing program, at Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero.
Translator’s Biography: Allison A. deFreese (Portland, Oregon) has lived in Mexico, Bolivia and Japan. She has previously translated work by Karla Marrufo, José Castillo Baeza, and other Latin American writers. She has three book-length translations forthcoming in 2020: a translation and trilingual adaptation of José R. Cervantes Carrillo’s A Practical Guide to Learning the Yucatec Mayan Language; María Negroni’s Elegy for Joseph Cornell, and Soaring to New Heights (Renuevo), the autobiography of NASA astronaut José Moreno Hernández who spent part of his childhood in Michoacán and worked as a migrant farmworker in California. She holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin’s James A. Michener Center for Writers, as well as an MA in Spanish Translation from the University of Texas at Brownsville (now Rio Grande Valley).
The social club is a cross between a coffeehouse and a hotel lobby, with chic décor and trendy chairs. The woman I’m meeting is a potential client. She works in real estate development and I work in communications. I’m optimistic.
I’m dressed in a jacket and skirt, tall boots. She wears a yellow sweater that complements her dark skin. Her hair sits in an elaborate, braided crown on the top of her head. I perch on my chair, uncomfortable in its faux-schoolroom design of wobbly metal legs and a carved wooden seat.
As she details her history, I listen, but I split my attention. I face her, but I have an imaginary satellite pointed to my right, angled at the corner of the room, attempting to beam in every word. That’s where I spotted him as soon as I entered. The woman across from him is much younger.
“I really think I need to lose another ten pounds, to be perfectly honest,” he says, and I cringe, remembering him saying the same to me, fishing for compliments. He is handsome and charming as ever. Now she’s laughing at something else he’s said. I feel a pang of stale jealousy, faint, like a water ring left on a table.
I shut down the mental satellite and force my whole attention back to my meeting. I ask two questions and note her answers. She’s telling me her vision for the city, and it’s interesting. I take a sip of coffee while she accepts a fresh pot of tea from a waitress. Over her shoulder, out the window, I see snow begin to fall. It’s March, too late for snow to be welcome, but it’s pretty.
I feel lips against my cheek before I can register what’s happening.
“Hello,” he says. “I just had to say hi.” I am stunned.
“Hello,” I say. Then he walks back to his table, without greeting my companion.
I blink at her, wide-eyed. She stares back at me. She is tall and strong. She is independent. She is a business owner. A man has just kissed me in public without my permission. In front of her. I am mortified. On her face, I see understanding. It has happened to her, too.
An audio clip plays in my mind:
“Trump: I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Our meeting ends and when I rise from the table, I turn to the left and do not look at the corner of the room. We walk down the stairs and out into the snow, making promises to follow up, to see each other again soon.
 From Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women, New York Times, October 8, 2016
Marijean Oldham is a public relations consultant and writer. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. In 2018, Marijean authored the book 100 Things to Do In Charlottesville Before You Die, Second Edition (2018 Reedy Press). In her spare time, Marijean bakes pies competitively.
The phone is ringing I am sure the phone is ringing somewhere in the dark cave of my bedroom in the black void of sleep I know the phone is ringing.
The phone is not ringing. The phone is in the other room, plugged into its charger. It is not ringing. The phone is not ringing.
Something is wrong with the kids I know something is wrong with the kids deep in the fissures of my brain I know that something is wrong with the kids.
Nothing is wrong with the kids. Go back to sleep. It’s 3 a.m. Nothing is wrong with the kids.
Thirty-two years ago, as I lay asleep and unsuspecting after a glorious night, nature worked the way it often does, and I was invaded by another human being. Hospitably, I opened my womb to a developing life–my baby, our baby, a temporary visitor, a sublet for nine months or so.
I did not know he was colonizing. I did not know he was going to stick with me forever.
While I thought I was gestating, he was moving in. Fetal cells crossed the placenta into my blood stream, into my cells. Like stem cells, fetal cells can morph and change into the tissue they inhabit. Scientists discovered this when they found cells with Y chromosomes–male chromosomes–in a woman’s brain tissue.
Her son was right inside her head.
Further research has shown that this is much more common than anyone had previously believed. Apparently, we give birth, but apparently, they never quite move out.
They call them micro-chimeras, little bits of other people living inside of you, making cell lines, taking up residence in your head, in your heart.
These chunks are all mashed up like the chimera of Greek mythology—a monster with a lion head, snake for a tail, and rising out of the back of the beast, a goat head. The chimera breathed flames. It was an omen of disaster ahead—fire, shipwrecks, volcanoes.
The chimera was, of course, female.
Later, a sister, another colonizer. As her cells crossed the placenta into my blood, as they latched and landed and became one with my tissue, did they meet her brother’s cells? Did they wrestle, like Jacob and Esau, in my brain, in my heart? Or did they link up, united in their intrusion into my body?
How do they mingle, co-mingle, with each other and with me? Which one is the lion head, which one the snake? Which the goat head rising up from the center, bleating its dismay?
Now they roar inside me in the middle of the night. Wake me in a blaze of panic because I know one or the other child is in trouble–struggling, despairing. Sometimes I am right. The phone is ringing, the kids are in trouble.
But my heart always knows before the phone rings. My brain knows before I am even fully awake. My boy, my girl, they will not let me go.
Kit Carlson is an Episcopal priest and a life-long writer with work appearing in publications as diverse as Seventeen Magazine and Anglican Theological Review. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, recently published in Ponder Review, Bending Genres, and The Windhover. She is author of “Speaking Our Faith” (Church Publishing, 2018). She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, with her husband Wendell, and Lola, a nervous rescue dog. Find her at www.kitcarlson.org.
Karen Carpenter was emblazoned into my retinas in the mid-1970s. I see her as the delicate, elfin creature who tiptoed into the spotlight inside the Hersheypark Arena and simply said “hello.”
That night, Karen wore a bell-bottomed, lace pantsuit and a metallic gold belt. Pantsuits were the rage then. Everyone was wearing them from Gloria Steinman to Charlie’s Angels. But this pantsuit! Fashioned entirely of beige lace. I imagined an elderly, nimble-fingered woman from Bruges, pins pressed tightly between her lips, toiling under weak candlelight with her loyal, calico cat by her side. The lace maker had read the measurements sent by the famous American pop star to a tee. That pantsuit fit like an elegant glove.
As soon as I sat down in my seat eight rows from the stage’s lip, I pretended my concert companion wasn’t there. I vanished the form of her body inside a navy pea coat perched loosely around shoulders into thin air. I blockaded her Shalimar perfume scenting our section like an old flower delivery inside a closed room and concentrated instead on the hopefully intoxicating qualities of second hand pot smoke.
I have no idea how or why my mother and I came to be sitting at that concert together. It was out of our ordinary. We never transcended. We never became more than what we were by blood. We almost never did “friend things.” It wasn’t meant to be. We were too different, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Even with the attendant mystery of why my mother and I attended a concert together once, I remember what a good performance it was. In addition to Karen Carpenter’s outfit, I have a permanent recording of her unique and beautiful voice inside my head: deeply resonant, pure, strong. But when she sang of being on top of the world, her smile was staged, a Cheshire grin on a thin face. Her brother Richard, seated at the piano, had the opposite problem. He was too consistently perky, bobbing his head every second note even during the sad songs like the one about rainy days and Mondays and having the blues.
It’s raining on a Monday. My mother forgets what day it is now. Her short-term memory has gone missing and the other parts of her, her distant memories, her sense of humor, are frequently on the fritz.
Today, she has forgotten more than usual. The index card standing at attention in the middle of her kitchen table is waiting in vain to learn: “TODAY’S DATE IS…” The Lilliputian billboard offering a daily reality check has taken the place of traditional, cheerful seasonal centerpieces and candleholders. I pick up the nearby red pencil and print: “Monday, October 7, 2019.”
“Here is your tea, Mom. No sugar, right?”
“I don’t want that milk.”
“Tea requires a drop of milk, remember? To protect teeth enamel. How about a cookie?”
I open the “sweets cabinet” underneath the toaster oven, noting the blackened toast crumbs and frozen pizza cheese coating the bottom tray like an ugly scab. Some changes about this kitchen of my childhood I will never get used to.
My mother’s sweets cabinet never harbored much promise while I was growing up in that house. Not today either.
“Fig newton or a gingersnap. Unless you want a Saltine or a box of golden raisins.”
“No chocolate chip?”
“No chocolate chip.”
“Forget it then.”
I give her one of each kind of cookie. She bites and chews.
“These cookies are stale. I can’t believe your father hasn’t inhaled them yet. Still good though. These are the classics, figs and snaps. Stick with the classics, Virginia. You’ll never be sorry.”
My mother stands. Limps. Retrieves both cookie boxes. Leaves the cabinet door open in a wide yawn. Takes one more of each variety for he paper plate. I put up my hand in protest when she reaches in for more. She hands over two fig newtons anyway.
“Speaking of the classics, Mom, how about pea coats. Remember those? People still wear pea coats.”
“Those were smart. Nice, big buttons with embossed ship anchors I think. Sailor coats.”
“Remember when you and I saw The Carpenters at the Arena? Remember the lace pantsuit Karen Carpenter wore?” I ask.
“I don’t really like pantsuits on women. Pantsuits make them look like astronauts.”
“What’s wrong with women being astronauts?’
“Nothing, I guess. If you want to fly to the moon, go ahead.” A rare laugh erupts from my mother, but it doesn’t succeed in changing the flat expression that has come to reside on her face.
“Do you remember that, though, Mom, when you and I went to the Hersheypark Arena and we saw The Carpenters? We sat really, really close to the stage?”
Outside, the rain intensifies. In the street, drops dart earthward, bounce off the standing, trampoline puddles. A red bird waits under a grey shrub, twitching nervously. Down the cement sidewalk, across the street, and up an identical walk, Mrs. Milhimes’ has arranged her customary, autumnal display of rust and yellow mums. The straw-hatted scarecrow stuck in one of the pots doesn’t like cold rain on his face. He’s slouched forward. He’s waiting it out.
My mother blinks, smiles weakly, swallows cookie.
“Yes, I do. I surely do,” she responds. “Didn’t we have a lot of fun together.”
I open my mouth and close it. Outside, the red bird decides she can’t wait huddled underneath shelter forever. She leaps, lifts her wings and flaps silently away.
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found or upcoming in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Moon City Review, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, Ginosko Literary Journal among others. Nominee for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net 2019 in nonfiction, Virginia resides near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
My husband’s eyebrows became electrified in Costa Rica, anarchistic caterpillars, with mohawks. Punks. We called them Syd Vicious throughout the vacation and laughed every time. My granddaughter toddled in too-large flippers. Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” That’s what she reminded me of, and I laughed every time. And I nuzzled her. Everybody nuzzled her. What a tonic.
My daughters and I wore our Polish thighs like trees. They wore theirs proudly, like oaks or redwoods. I tried to hide mine. I had decades of experience showing shame, like a peasant or a shrub. The native men let their bellies brag, buttons unbuttoned. I liked that about them, which was surprising. Maybe because they weren’t really handsome. The native women were beautiful but always sweeping.
The water in Costa Rica was perfect. No difference between water and body and air. No need to flinch. We floated in infinity pools like Jesus, drank pina coladas, kicking our legs on underwater stools made of volcanic stone.
At breakfast, white-faced monkeys, like two-toned jesters in bells, swung along the eaves above us, comically charming. Then they swooped down and stole all the sugar bowls. Then they flaunted their booty. Sugar packets were dangling from their ironic smiles. Sugar packets fanned out like large paper dentures. One monkey wore a bowl on his head, and then dropped all the Splenda on our heads. Only the Splenda.
I thought I looked great for my age in Costa Rica. Then I saw the photos and saw a peasant from L’Vov, a woman shorter and squatter than the others. My body’s a potato. My hair’s an Eastern European riot. At least I’m modern for L’Vov. I have a singular style. This is what I tell myself for consolation.
And anyway, this is a poem about my husband’s eyebrows, not me.
Leanne Grabel, M.Ed., is a writer, illustrator, performer & special education teacher (in semi-retirement). Currently, Grabel is teaching graphic flash memoir to adults in several arts centers and retirement communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. In love with mixing genres, Grabel has written & produced numerous spoken-word multimedia shows, including “The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression”; and “Anger: The Musical.” Her poetry books include Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Short Poems by a Short Person; Badgirls (a collection of flash non-fiction & a theater piece); & Gold Shoes, a collection of graphic prose poems [https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/gold-shoes-by-leannegrabel/]. Grabel has just completed Tainted Illustrated, an illustrated stretched memoir, which is being serialized in THE OPIATE. She is working on a compilation of 45 years of illustrated writing. She and her husband Steve Sander are the founders of Café Lena, Portland’s legendary poetry hub of the 90s. http://www.orartswatch.org/conversations-with-leanne-grabel/
We stand in our black catering aprons waiting for the wedding ceremony to end. For the guests to hike up the hill with their demands. There is a lull before the storm.
I watch as a bee lands just inside a half-empty glass perched on the counter behind the bar. It is late in the season, and the bee moves slowly, sluggish in the cool afternoon, as it hurtles toward its fate. It approaches the ledge and hovers over the surface of the lemonade. I wonder how long the drink has been sitting out.
The bee lingers, enticed by the sticky sweet, but hesitant. It gathers a lick—a sip—and suddenly tumbles all the way in, flailing and muttering, unable to buzz under the weight of the mild yellow liquid. It is like watching a young man fall in love with the wrong woman.
There is a gravity that cannot be argued with. The bee submerges and reappears, struggling in fits and starts, foaming up the liquid. It goes still—then, thrashes again, harder than before.
I am a rapt audience. Small-talk swirls. I’m not paying attention, except to the bee. I stand waiting on this ceremony to end. Waiting on this bee to die. Waiting on whatever can grow out of this arid pause.
And, it dawns on me—a dull ache that deepens with every damp wingbeat against the glass—how I am complicit to this suffering. I witness death encroach and pull back and resurrect again and again and again. The natural way of things.
Eventually, it’s me who breaks. I can’t take it any more.
“Will someone kill that fucking bee?” I say unkindly, a hint of upset braided into my voice. I am brimming with fury, an emotion that surprises even me, its bearer. Appalled by my own curiosity at how long it will take for the bee to die, I berate myself, wishing I could muster kindness, a shining compassion for it all. For the bee and those watching it and all the eyes and minds adjusting to the very thought of something so merciful—the intrepid act of living, right up to the edge, to the very, very end.
The soft-spoken-Millennial bartender with a Jesus-beard turns and in one unbroken gesture dumps the contents of the glass down the floor drain. He has the grace not to smile at his own quiet act of saving the world.
Anna Oberg is a professional photographer living and working in Colorado. When she’s not hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park with her camera, she writes from home. She holds a Master’s degree in American Literature from Eastern Kentucky University. This is her first publication.